Fabiano Caruana photographed moments after he sealed his place as the World Championship Challenger (editors note – I cannot find the image credit for the photographer, if anyone knows please contact me)
It is fair to say that the Carlsen – Caruana match of 2018 is likely to be one of the most highly anticipated chess clashes in recent memory. This is down to their respective abilities and styles but also due to the various stories the western media can spin on it. For example, “First American to compete for world crown since Bobby Fischer” the headlines have been crying since Caruana sealed his final victory on Tuesday (poor old Gata Kamsky…) . So with the world media eagerly casting its gaze upon London in November, how can British chess clubs capitalise?
Its been eighteen years since the chess world championship match was last held in the UK and 25 years since a British born candidate battled for the crown. Last year I wrote several impassioned pieces to the Bristol chess community (and wider UK chess scene) about embracing digital technology to help promote and grow chess clubs. As part of my call to arms I pointed out that the Bristol & District Chess League experienced a massive boom in membership in 1993, the year of the Kasparov vs. Short match. League membership over 1993 / 94 was an astonishing 635 league members (from 450ish in 1992) and indeed the numbers remained above 500 until 1998 (today it hovers around the 300 mark). Admittedly, the league did not see an equivalent boom for the London held Kramnik vs. Kasparov so perhaps the lack of home grown talent didn’t pull in local interest?
But its fair to say that in 2018 and in an age of ubiquitous connectivity the amount of online searches and general public interest in our ancient game is likely to increase again in the run up to and during the championship. Those clubs that are prepared to ride this wave of renewed interest will reap the rewards in terms of membership so lets look at some ideas for British clubs cashing in on world championship fever.
World Championship Fan Parks & Events
If football can have fan parks I fail to see why chess players can’t hire a room in a pub and stream the delights of Jan Gustafsson and Peter Svidler (editors note – other streaming services are available).
The double act of Jan and Peter would make a great Chess Fan park when pumped through speakers on a large screen in the back of pub!
I constantly hear British players bemoan the lack of Chess on the TV and sometimes wonder if they have ever heard of the internet? The quality of streamed chess from major providers such as chess.com and chess24 really is very high (lets not talk about the official world chess coverage) and I love the idea of opening up the club house or hiring a room with some boards where the club members of all strengths and abilities can get together and watch the highlight of the chess calendar together. Imagine running some fun blitz events around the sides where passing members of the public could stop and ask questions about chess and how they can get involved.
Social Media and mobile friendly websites
At the risk of banging a very worn down drum, if your club hasn’t updated its website with clear contact details and at the very least set up a Facebook and Twitter account then now is the time to get on it. You have 8 months before the world championship begins and all that lovely juicy online search traffic starts Googling “chess club in my local area“. If you don’t believe me that this has an effect then talk to either Horfield chess club or North Bristol chess club in the Bristol league who have both seen growth in excess of 25% this season since starting online promotions.
Hold open nights for beginners
How many times are you sat blitzing in a pub with a mate when someone walking past, stops and wistful looks down at the board? You all know the type of person I mean. They pause for what they think is a few seconds and are still stood gazing minutes later. They often depart by saying “I used to love chess at school” or something similar. Its these people who, come the world championship, suddenly spark up the courage of their convictions again to contact a club. Lets make it easy for them shall we?
Why not start publicising events and welcome evenings in conjunction with the world championship games? “In celebration of the Chess World Championship we welcome all beginners free of charge to a our club on Tuesday” etc etc. Perhaps the games are again screened in the background and some stronger players are on hand to welcome and provide some light coaching.
Above are just three ideas that a proactive chess club could embrace to help make the most of the world championship match. Carlsen vs. Caruana promises to be one to remember and will certainly help alter the public perception of chess with two young players, raised in the age of powerful chess computers and the internet, battling it out for the ultimate prize. Its not often that such a clash occurs on our shores and I feel it would be a real shame if British chess clubs did not grab this golden opportunity to (re)invigorate themselves.
Finally, if you like any of the ideas above or are planning any other activities with your local club then i’d love to hear about it. As a community if we share ideas then we can ensure that clubs across the country benefit and help one another when the World Championship rolls around.
We have 8 months. The work starts now.
Jon is the Editor of The Bristol Chess Times and Publicity and Recruitment Officer for The Bristol & District Chess League. He plays for Horfield Chess Club and has been known to play 1. b3 on occasion.